Monday, March 28, 2011

Literarily Sneaking Into the Women's Lockerroom!: On Gender and POV

Courtesy of the Internet.

One post down, another to go. Also if there's anything other writing and storytelling issues you would like me to address, feel free to e-mail me anytime at plotjunkie at gmail dot com. Today I will be answering Livingsword's request to address the issue of writing in someone of the opposite gender's point of view.

I will admit now that I was pretty stumped for a little while when I received this request. It was not necessarily because I have trouble doing this, myself. Actually it was more along the lines of that I don't have much trouble at all. I don't want to sound conceited, but that's the truth of it. I suppose I had never really thought about it all that thoroughly. Keep in mind, I am no expert. If anything you are also helping me out by prompting me to analyze what I do to get past the issue. By being aware of what, how, and why you are able to do something enables you to learn much more and only gives you room to improve.

That aside I can understand why POV from a different gender is a bit of a stumbling block. Men and women do think and speak differently. According to studies, the brains of men and women are built and wired differently for processing and communicating information and emotions. Does that mean that they all act and think the same as each other? Heck no! The key to getting past that issue is realizing that.

People have different priorities, personalities, and pasts. What sort of features does the character you want to portray have? Writing in a different point of of view is not necessarily putting yourself into another's situation. It's putting yourself into the other's situation and emulating what they would do given their opinions, background, disposition, personality, etc.

I don't say "shoes" because not everyone can walk in heels.

The trick is to fully understand what motivates your character. Was your female character entered into hundreds as beauty pageants as a child? Then that character may have set rules for what beauty is and may also abhor imperfection in the world out of her own insecurities. Was your male character raised by women only? Then there's a possibility he responds and empathizes with women better than men, and depending on how he related with his family, may resolve to verbal battles rather than physical altercations when faced with a problem. Given his or her personality, how is your character likely to respond when presented with a serious problem?

One of the simplest ways I can think of to properly write POV is to just read and keep reading. Try to find books that have characters that are similar to the ones you want to portray, listen to their voices, study their actions, and pay attention to their backgrounds and personalities. Another way is to pick someone you know that you may want to base a character on and talk to them, get to know them, learn their opinions on anything. Actually a pretty interesting trick I've noticed in books is how a person's speech patterns often sound similar to what they are thinking. Have an existing character in your story that you want to write a POV scene for? Listen to what they say and write to match them! Though noticing what a person doesn't say is also just as important. A person's physical movements often also speak volumes about what they are thinking or how they are thinking it. Does the person smile a lot, but have a hard time maintaining eye contact? How does the person's face look while being herded through a crowd?

Am I saying that you should avoid gender stereotypes and tropes altogether? Once again, heck no! Feel free to add stereotypes to your fullest desire, but have a reason for that trope to be there otherwise your character is not going to make a lick of sense. For example, take Padme from Star Wars: Episodes 1-3. Can anyone explain to me how she goes from a fourteen year old strong, calculating QUEEN OF AN ENTIRE PLANET with wisdom far beyond her years,

Essentially, this.
to a needy twenty-seven year old with the sensibilities of a boy-obsessed teeny-bopper? this
The only explanation I can think of is the writer succumbing to a misplaced gender stereotype. How the heck does a woman who has seen several wars with the death count in the thousands, who has stood up to and held her own against politicians from all across the galaxy, who has on more than one occasion survived almost certain death, and who has just given birth to two healthy children who have all the potential to save the universe decide to let herself die because OH MAI GAWD MY HUSBAND IS EVIL AND TRIED TO KILL ME?

It's probably for this reason why many women complain that men can't write realistic female characters and vise versa. I think what often happens is that we are so consumed by the idea that the opposite gender is "not like me" that we often forget they too are real people with their own priorities and ways of dealing with them, despite the potential genetic disposition. While studies have shown that men and women's brains technically work differently, they also do show that the way we are is more likely to follow the course of nurture over nature. Granted, it will take some time to get a hang of this, and if you're still having a hard time, try this as practice: start writing a scene from a first person's point of view. Do NOT assign a name or gender yet. When you are finished, decide on the two and elaborate (or take away) from there depending on how you want to further develop the character. That way you will have the basic structure of the human being before deciding what makes that being a man or a woman.

Or both...

Well, I've just run my brain through the gauntlet! Hopefully my ramblings will make sense to you or I've given you something to work with. Of course feel free to continue the discussion in the comments section. I'd like to get other people's take on this as well since I haven't given much thought to it previously.

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